At the request of the River Forest board of trustees, Village Administrator Eric Palm agreed last week to prioritize economic development and technological advancement in his goals for the coming months.
At a village board meeting Jan. 18, the still-new Palm presented a comprehensive list of ongoing projects and future objectives for a number of different village departments. His list of priorities included the economic and technological elements, and emphasized budget planning for fiscal year 2012, the conclusion of labor agreements for the police and fire departments, decisions on how to proceed in permanently filling police chief and public works director positions, tying up projects to which TIF money was committed, and developing a plan for the installation of a human resources function for the village.
Palm said the board asked that his attention be focused on enticing businesses into unoccupied retail space in the town center, which currently houses Whole Foods, Panera Bread, and several other retailers. “There are some vacancies in there, so we want to work with the leasing agents for the owner to try to recruit some businesses on that location,” Palm said in an interview Friday. He said there are other potential retail areas in town that should be considered as well, though the board acknowledges that the current precarious economic situation doesn’t bode well for immediate activity.
“The board recognizes that because of the economic situation that all these areas aren’t going to redevelop overnight…but we want to be in a position that when things do turn around, that we’re ready to go, [that] all our planning is done.”
Another top priority as stated by the board relates to the use of technology in village offices. “Technology is almost a current that runs through everything that we do. So when we’re looking at improving something or changing something, one thing the board wants me to continue to look at is how can we use technology to improve whatever we’re looking at. I think in the past technology has been kind of an afterthought, and I think they want to move that to the forefront,” Palm said.
In village hall, these new technological advancements will begin with a new and updated phone system, as well as the incorporation of a computerized document management system that will decrease paper use and store pertinent information in a central repository. “That technology will make our operations a lot more efficient,” said Palm.
At the meeting, Palm said they also discussed a timeline for labor contract agreements with the police and fire departments. The former contracts expired in April of last year. “Within the next I’d say two weeks we’ll know whether we have agreements, or if the two parties are unable to come to an agreement.” In that case, the parties would proceed to arbitration, but Palm said he’s hopeful that the groups will reach an agreement that everyone can live with.
The human resource function was marked as another area that needs attention. The person formerly responsible for that function no longer works in village hall, and Palm said the village needs to ensure that certain HR compliances aren’t overlooked. “You’re dealing with some very technical, detailed areas of labor and employment law, and you need to make sure you’re complying with those provisions,” said Palm. He added that the work could potentially be outsourced, as opposed to hiring an individual to perform HR duties.
A full list of Palm’s goals for the village were outlined in spreadsheet form, and listed by department. “It’s pretty comprehensive,” he said. “And the reason I did that is I wanted the board to have a good handle on everything that their departments and department heads are working on.”